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tv   American History TV  CSPAN  October 6, 2014 12:00am-1:36am EDT

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gerrymandering by having an open primary, where the two top voters go on to the election regardless of party? >> i don't have a strong opinion of this. i do not think we know enough about ourselves, because it has only operated for a couple of election cycles. it is not much evidence it has had much effect. what has to happen is, for the system to work, arguably, you have to have somebody who is strongly ideological who can get a decisive margin by appealing to the other party. i just don't know if that many cases where it has operated. in california, in terms of state government, the republicans made so many mistakes in california for the past 20 years. it is a solidly democratic state, which is why jerry brown has been so successful.
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the barriers which were put up are no longer effective. it is an experiment. a lot of political scientists -- it is not clear there is evidence it is going to have much of an effect, at least not yet. i think we need a couple of elections to find that out. thank you. [applause] >> are watching american his pre-tv. all weekend, every weekend, on c-span three. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. >> next, we will hear from a panel about the personal and political consequences of warren harding's love affair. surviving love letters detailing the relationship were until very recently kept under seal by the
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library of congress, which hosted this event. the former president's grand-nephew explains why they insisted to keep the letters seal and how the family continues to deal with the fallout of the love affair. this is about two hours. >> my name is jim hudson, chief of the library's manuscript division. on the stage with me, we have james, a distinguished trial attorney, partner in a cleveland firm. the author of two books, one about his grandfather -- great-grandfather, wonderful title and seems to have been a magician. a real magician. but he was the chairman of the ohio democratic party during the
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harding era. and then the book on warren harding, published in 2009. we also have karen who is an archivist, who prepared the harding papers for reader use on july 29. he graduated from brown. excellent historian and a first-rate person. we have dr. richard harding, the grand-nephew of president harding. he was the president of the association -- >> american psychiatric association. i shouldn't make that mistake.
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i don't need to apologize for that. very brief description of the harding papers, which is probably unnecessary, given the publicity they have received. but there are about 1,000 -- the papers. they are approximately 1,000 pages of correspondence between warren harding and carrie phillips who was the wife of one of harding's good friends in marion, ohio. there was a love affair between the two from 1905 to 1920. the collection, however, only has letters between 1910 and 1920.
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most of the vast majority of the letters -- all of them probably -- i don't know if there are any carrie letters in there. >> there are a few. >> the vast majority of the letters written by harding and retained by carrie phillips, she said she had written a volume nouse number of letters and pages were lines, as she once reminded him, but very few of her letters survive. the phillips' collection is mainly notes and memoranda. how did the library of congress get this collection? we got it in the following way. in 1963, francis russell, whose book is probably the most widely read -- >> unfortunately that is true.
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>> he turned up in marion, ohio, looking for some information about harding. and he was steered to a local lawyer, who was the guardian of carrie phillips. she had been in 1956, had to be put in a nursing home. she was not a ward of the state. we discovered that recently, thanks to the papers that i'll mention in a minute. but the lawyer actually in carrie's death in 1960, kept the correspondence. was that illegal? how would you characterize that? >> he was the lawyer representing the estate and i would say probably unethical, but not illegal. he should have told the daughter of carrie phillips that he had
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the papers in his basement. >> russell was put in contact with the lawyer and got limited access -- i'm summarizing a very complicated story. and russell spread the word and it got into the press -- got a hold of it. in 1964, there was a front-paged article in 1964 about the harding letters. harding's nephew, the father of richard, brought a lawsuit right away for infringement of copyright. the copyright interests were owned by the owner, warren harding. the suit went on and lasted for about seven years until 1951, when there was a resolution.
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the hardings bought the papers from carrie phillips' hires and in 1972 donated them to the library of congress. a higher court had sealed the letters just more or less after the "new york times" article in 1964. they sealed them on july 29, 1964. so we've had them since 1972. there was a 50 year embargo on them and that will expire a week from today. more to the story, russell -- francis russell entered into a kind of partnership or devil's bargain with an archivist at the historical society and he made several microfilmed copies of the letters.
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we tried to track one of them down -- karen did. and the institution that was alleged to be holding it, did not have it. it's not clear how many copies he made. >> made about seven or eight copies. >> and we know where one of them is -- one of them turned up in his own personal papers that he donated to the western reserve historical society. and jim learned about this in 2004 and found this trove of letters and wrote the book. he at some point mounted -- transcribed all the letters which is an effort and mounted them and some of the images on a
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web site that he maintains. and these are the images that you have seen in the newspapers or late-night talk shows even. our own collection here -- the security of that collection has never been compromised. no one has ever seen it except staff members who had a chance to perhaps look at them. i never have. they're in our vault in our manuscript division that also contains security-classified material. what we're going to do is a -- a week from now, we have scanned the papers and going to put them up online.
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they are scanned at 400 dpi and will be a much better product than any kind of microfilm that is still kicking around. and there is material in there that are not in the microfilm. these will be online. as a bonus, we were fortunate enough to receive a collection, collateral collection from the members of four great-grandsons of carrie phillips. it's the collection of information about some of the litigation that went on and some harding letters to the phillip'' family, to phillips' granddaughter, and carrie's daughter isabel. not a large collection but interesting things in there. that also will be put online on
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the 29th. so i think we're very happy to have the opportunity to do this. both of these collections. the library, as you know or may not know, we are the presidential library in the united states. these other people are just third rate. \[laughter] >> we have the major collections of george washington, thomas jefferson, james madison, andrew jackson, abraham lincoln, theodore roosevelt and woodrow wilson. we are not partisans and never tried to defend the reputations of people whose papers we have. we always want to make sure the factual information we dispense about papers are correct. so we have done digging around harding as well. and i didn't know much about
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harding when it started. i was trained as a diplomatic historian and i knew about the 1921 conference. but other than that, well, harding, i went with the flow and thought the guy was sort of a -- so, you know, this existed. but we've -- in attempting to working on this collection, there is misinformation about harding and indeed everybody connected with him, his wife, carrie phillips. it's unbelievable and the question is, what's wrong, what's wrong with the picture, why didn't the historians correct this stuff?
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we have been trying. and we have a nice collection out on the table of some of the things that we have found from our own collections about harding. so i'm going to -- i think some of this is really important and let karen, who found most of this stuff, briefly describe it and then we'll go on. >> welcome. jim said a few words about the display. i hope you had a chance to look at it. there is a handout with anes a and item list on it. take some time to look at that. after hearing about the cuss towedial history of the letters, i would like you to contemplate the home of the harding-phillips' correspondence, hidden in a box in a closet for 35 years.
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carrie phillips never sold the letters, never published a book and as far as we know she never showed the letters to anyone. she has been accused of black mail but it's unclear if she cashed in. so the letters remained hidden. it's like so much about harding, so many things hidden away. harding died 2 1/2 years into his presidency. his wife died 16 months after that. they had no children. shortly after his death, the teapot dome scandal put a cloud over the administration. no one is to speak for harding. all of his papers have been left in marion, ohio, where they were closed and took 40 years for
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those papers to open for research. his legacy was like an empty room, echo chamber for rumor, and gossip. the harding story was built on hear say. this is the organizing principle of the harding display out there. there are so many rumors about harding that we searched our collections. the best example of an absolute fabry occasion is the supposedly mysterious death of harding, a death to have been suicide or a murderous poisoning by his wife. notions of those were cemented into the public mind in a 1930 book "the strange death of president harding" created the story of florence poisoning her husband. the book was revealed to be a hoax. it is still to this day in print. on display are items from the
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manuscript division. boon was a white house physician to harding, coolidge and one of the doctors in attendance when harding died. he had high blood pressure and heart disease. there is no doubt that he died of natural causes. there's a small section in the display dedicated to the popular believe that he was a poor writer and mangled the english language. a diary criticizes his speeches and ohio accent. one person's trash is another person's treasure. he was a very popular public speaker and did not invent the word normalcy. another section deals with the rumor that he was part african-american. the rumor behind the p whispering campaign of 1920.
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we have included two presidential campaign possible terse, one printed by someone from cleveland supporting harding. the other, a republican party poster with a harding family tree intended to silence the whisperers and demonstrate the whiteness of the harding line. the head of the section of the manuscript division pointed out a strange manuscript in the papers and asked me to try to figure out what it was and why was it in evelyn mack clain's papers. she owned the hope diamond and married a wealthy man who owned the "washington post." evelyn was at the top of the washington social world, good friends with roosevelt and florence mcdonald. i pulled out the box and i found that strange manuscript, pages
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pulled from this raceist 1922 book. the professor claimed that harding had black ancestry. they are edited and extra pages inserted. who was editing this book. i found the printer's plate in a file. why wol such things be in evelyn walsh mclean's papers? she sent me a handwriting sample. the handwriting belongs to chancellor. the pieces began to fall in place and the old rumors about this book appear to be true. government confiscation of books in ohio, transported back to d.c. for destruction at the mclean estate. evelyn kept something. even though there are few copies of this book, it is the original print source for many of the rumors about harding and the
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only print source before 1964 that mentions the affair with carrie phillips. the first part of the display is devoted to carrie fulton phillips. many publish sources claim that harding had multiple affairs, there is only one verified relationship, the 15-year relationship with phillips. a lengthy and complicated affair. the items displayed are part of a gift from the great-grandsons of phillips or documents found at the national archives. we have good photographs of carrie phillips and her daughter. also from that collection is a set of letters from harding to her husband demonstrating the relationship between the two families. the 1964 personal account written by carrie's daughter describes a difficult relationship with her mother and her shock upon learning in 1964
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of her mother's affair in -- harding. they lived in germany from 1911-1914. she had a pro-german standpoint. she was opposed to world war i. you may have read "the harding affair." it is a story of romance, politics and world war i. in the end, he concluded that carrie phillips may have been an actual paid spy for the german government. it was this question that led jim hudson and asked me to visit national archives.
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>> we know that he reported on her in september of 1917 to the justice department and that report went out to intelligence. for me the most astonishing documents is 1917 exchange between the head of military intelligence with then senator harding. carrie phillips had reportedly called senator harding her friend and so the spotlight was on harding. how well did he know these women and could he testify to their loyalty? harding responded with a three-page handwritten letter, isabel is golden. carrie, she is intelligent and proud in the expression of her opinions and in his words, quote, very openness of it would seem to establish the innocuous
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character. in other words, if she was a spy, why would she talk this way. even though it seems it would be a dangerous liability, he never backed away from her. now it's time for me to back away. >> two more important tasks before we begin a conversation, we have a statement from the family, the donors of this excellent collection that karen and i have talked about. and they asked me to read it. and then dr. richard harding will also make a presentation. here's a statement from the family regarding the public release of the harding-phillip'' collection by the library of congress.
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phillips is our ancestor and have history judge her on fact and not theory or untruths. we ask historical scholars to be cognizant of the extent of misinformation, distortion and speculation paraded as facts surrounding this woman. a prime example of this is the theory that not only carrie but her daughter isabel were involved in espionage under the direction of the german government. to our knowledge there is no proof of this. further, this subject was investigated and researched by two united states government agencies finding no evidence of collusion, two women vocal in expressing their pro-german sentiment. another popularly held yet false notion there are no descendents of carrie phillips. these are four great-grandsons.
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and a further area of concern to us is the portrayal of how carrie handled these letters during her lifetime. after the death of president harding, when there was no alleged payoffs being made, carrie kept her collection of letters concealed protecting the legacy of this president. only after she lost control of these letters that they came to light. while the correspondence might have shown him to cast him in a negative light in getting her way, this less than perfect woman never did, intending to take the letters to her grave. this stands in testimony to her feelings for this man. while we were not equated with carrie, in our youth, we knew her daughter, isabel and can assure any and all she was a woman of grace and honor.
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she was married to a man she adored and claimed no knowledge of her mother's fair until she was confronted with the misappropriated letters from her mother's estate. to her warren harding was a close family friend and the revellings of this affair, was crushing. she was ill with a respiratory condition, that would cut her life short and through this she persevered. isabel, in coordination with the harding family sought to gain possession of her mother's documents to prevent their untimely publication so the originals could be transferred to the hardings with the understanding that they would be sealed until well after the death of all involved. if the decision was isabel's alone, she would have burned the letters. one might ask what the motivation of her action was.
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despite common knowledge to the contrary, the tie between harding and the fill is' family was strong until his death in 1923. a letter alluded to by karen, which states that carrie phillips, her husband and her mother visited, took an automobile trip to the white house in 1922 and visited harding. if the decision -- she honored his memory by working with his family on the disposition of the documents so they might do the most good and least harm. knowing this body of papers would be made public, isabel passed on correspondence, documents and personal notes related to the subject. we as a family have remaped silent. upon this milestone it is appropriate to share these documents passed down to us to be known as the collection so a more accurate historical record
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can be achieved. we would like to thank the team of professionals for their work on this collection of important correspondence and to provide complete and balanced information. the research and investigation in this subject has been extremely thorough and has brought more collarity for this story. respectfully. that is the statement from the four great-grandsons. and now, dr. richard harding will have the podium for as long as he wishes. \[laughter] >> it will be 45 minutes. \[laughter] >> and then time's up.
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>> we can all leave after 10 minutes. >> i'm richard harding, grand-nephew of warren harding and grandson of george harding, the only brother of the president who survived into adulthood. george's oldest son was my father, george, iii. and george was in the middle of the heart of the 1964 harding affair papers covers -- controversy. joining me today are my two brothers, george and warren and other family members. we are delighted to be here. it is with some ambivolence but with a sense of history that we are present. 50 years ago, my father, along with his siblings, acquired the papers, had them sealed and
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entrusted them to the library of congress. the current generations of hardings have honored that trust. to our collective knowledge no individual has seen or had access to the original letters except for staff members, as was mentioned earlier. i was asked to talk just a little bit about the family background. so if you i will indulge me for just a minute. warren harding's parents were ohio frontier farmers as the country came out of the civil war in 1865. his father's claim to fame that as a soldier for the army of the potomac, he went to the white house and shook the hand of abraham lincoln. 55 years later, he would return as the father of the 29th president. he and his wife were successful
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farmers, but they wanted more for their growing family, and so both, both went to cleveland mom yeohpathic medical school and graduated and began a career in medicine. their younger son, my grandfather went to the university of michigan medical school and followed in their footsteps. warren, however, finished college, taught for a year and then got into the newspaper business and took on the "marion star" and made a great success of it in prosperous marion, ohio. my father and his siblings, warren, ii, ruth, charles and mary, had a special relationship with uncle warren. i don't think i ever heard anything but uncle warren and aunt florence. he filled the void because of my grandfather had rue matic fever
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and had mitro valve problems. he taught my the his nieces and nevada fuse and present and supportive when their father was very ill, which he was frequently. now on his death, president harding left $10,000 to each neice and nephew. figure out how much that would be now. that would be quite a bit. and they used that for their education, not a model-tford. four of the five of those nieces and nevada fuse graduated from medical school and the fifth from nursing school. this gift and its careful use enabled the family to continue its careful direction for the next several generations.
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let me make one point clear. we are not here to deny facts. what happened between two consenting adults over a 15-year period over 100 years ago is not for our family to judge. the negative ripple effects of their relationship has been keenly felt. but processed along with the many positive attributes of our ancestor. why did my father seal the records for 50 years? there are times like now that i wish he had teeled them for 75 years. \[laughter] >> but, with only an educated guess, let me surmise my father and his siblings did not carefully study the letters. it is likely they felt they were protecting their beloved uncle
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and close family members who knew him. and as you can remember, it had been a rough time the last couple of decades. it goes without saying that the harding family has always considered the letters private documents. with long a tradition of medical practice and public service, we firmly believe that private matters even for the rich and famous, should remain private. however, as a person interested in history i have understanding of the uniqueness of high governmental leaders, correspondence and possible significance to historical scholars, especially when the correspondence includes discussion with a close friend of the issues of the day and the issues that resulted. in 1963, president kennedy was assassinated.
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with the help of the brother and attorney general. the kennedy papers were retained, sealed and placed in the kennedy library for a 50-year period. many of that material remains sealed still. my father used this precedent in 1964 and finally in 1972, as mr. hudson was saying and chose the library of congress. and felt that this was the proper place for presidential material where it could best be housed and preserved. now, my father was a devout, no-nonsense person, he understand that a president's letters are different from those of a regular citizen. think of this, 1964, he had hoped that in the calm, cool political air of 2014 --
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\[laughter] >> that there could be a careful review of the letters by historical scholars. he, of course, in 1964 had no idea or could not even imagine that the internet was coming. he would not have believed in 2014, any person in the world would be able to read the letters at their leisure in their office or at home. family has some frustration that now, most articles and inquiries so far have focused more on the phrases rather than the meaningful historical content of these letters. so we are here. symposium will focus on a small
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part of warren harding's life and we were pleased to have some of the positive things corrected that were brought up just a few minutes ago. the accomplishments in his life, the washington naval disarmament conference, the fact that he was an early leader in civil rights. that he proposed anti-linching laws. only president to do that for generations, because it was poison for them to get in fights with southern democrats. the fact that -- he re-established the preliminary asy of the first amendment after the first world war and he balanced the budget. pretty impressive. now he made the hard choices that presidents must make. and we feel that instead, we are
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talking about oftentimes or reading about in newspaper articles the good man's mistakes which seem all too common in 20th century political leaders. we feel we have done the right thing having fulfilled the trust set up 50 years ago. and history will tell us if we were wise to do so. now, i challenge you -- i see there are a number of scholars and historians in the audience. a collection of private letters from a key senator and future president to his confidencee during a critical period in american history does not come along often. it is our hope and your responsibility to not be distracted by the sexually-ex plight -- explicit prose that fills these letters but use the information to reassess the measure of the man. warren harding doesn't need protection.
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he needs honest, hard-working and fair historians to tell the story as they see it. thank you. \[applause] >> i'm going to read an appraisal of president harding by his physician while he was in the white house, admiral joel boone and then have a conversation. he was a man who won a medal of honor as a marine corps physician in france and he was then the presidential doctor for harding, coolidge, hoover and f.d.r. and this letter was written in
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1959 about harding. he says, i wonder how well he knew late president harding. he was writing a friend. i didn't know him until his second month in office. from then, i knew him as one of his physicians. i saw him frequently. lived in the white house for four months, september-december during a very serious illness of mrs. harding. accompanied them to florida. was a member of the presidential party on a transcontinental tour and to alaska in the summer of 1923. was in attendance of one of the physicians when he was desperately ill in san francisco up until the time of his death. his regular physicians were a reserve naval medical officer -- reserve army officer and naval medical officer. no one gets to know a person as
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well as his or her physician does. nor does anyone become intimate or have personal contact with him as his physician. from personal acquaintance i didn't see any sordid side. i know of a gentleman, kindly, conscious youse, patriotic and maybe harding, informed on government. he had been a state senator and lieutenant governor of ohio, united states state before the election to the presidency. one who loved his fellow men and one who didn't find any satisfaction of speaking ill of anyone. these are a few of his characteristics. never had a more cooperative or appreciative patient in my long career in my practice of medicine, which is now
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approaching its 50th year. i ask jim and karen -- i believe karen who has actually read every word -- >> i read every word. i didn't have the whole collection. >> but i want to ask them not about harding's political career which had some very attractive features, but what was the man's character? what sort of character was he? >> well, good afternoon, everyone. this is one of the great stories of the 20th century that is now coming to light. and my hope is that people will look differently at warren
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harding. we have seen all the things on the internet and john oliver reading some of these letters. it is astonishing, younger people are saying he is their hero. we don't write letters this way anymore. over 10 years and you really do get a sense of his character. you get to know him from reading these letters. this woman to me appears to have been the love of his life and had both good times and bad times. they fought over the first world war. that's very significant and i'll tell you why later. let me give you one example of -- give an idea of his character. when florence harding was very sick, carrie phillips was in berlin and he was writing her about what was going on and he was taking care of his wife florence, eating dinner by himself. and this dog showed up at the back door, who had been hit by a car twice, he said. was partially blind.
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had three legs only. and he took pity on this little dog and asked him in to have dinner with him. and he would share some stuff with him. and he eventually then after doing that for several days found out the dog showed up every day at that time right on the spot, he said. he fed the dog and later the dog stopped coming and he found out from a neighbor that he died and he said i grew to like this little guy and what he was and what he was about. you compare warren harding's love for animals. he did not hunt. he was not a hunter and did not believe in that.
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teddy roosevelt liked to go to africa and slaughter everything in his path. these are the sorts of details that give you a feeling for the person and some idea of what their character is. beyond this great love affair and beyond this fantastic event of the first world war brewing in the background. these little intimate details really describe him. and richard, that may be something that you see as similar trait in your family, love of animals and so forth. >> i would expand on his love for his nieces and nevada fuse -- nevada u.s., he and florence were childless and he took them on and their father was very ill. would go into congestive failure and nearly died multiple times. turn blue all of a sudden and there was no treatment, of course, and he would come and one night he stayed up all night with his younger brother who was
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dying and kept saying every time that he would wake up enough to get a little bit toll drink, he kept saying, deacon, he had nicknames for just about everyone, he said deacon, i'll take care of the children. don't worry about the children. i'll take care of them and that kind of a supportive person. and was uncle warren to the family. and i guess that's all i have to say. >> what's your impression of -- >> thinking about something that comes out based on the relationship with carrie phillips and seen the letters of his loyalty, extreme loyalty, it was a political danger for him to continue the relationship with her. she was pushing him away often, especially after 1914 and during this time period. and ask him about the loyalty,
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she wasn't being very friendly to him, but he was very loyal and i guess that's a characteristic that some people considered to have caused him problems, too much loyalty to some of his sfration officials and see sometimes the quality that is very good but can trip you up. >> he writes to carrie phillips and this is in january of 1917, before the war breaks out, he says you might not wear yourself out. brother's illness was due to his overwork and he had a desperately narrow escape. he is better and i'm so relieved. it has taken a load off my mind.
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i knew his merits and usefulness and family of four children. he must live for them. of course, i would have been a real brother, but i could not take his place. it is so good that he is getting better. i could go and little would matter. so you get into this deep love that he had for his family that comes out in these letters, too. >> read jim's book and i would like to ask about the character question. did harding -- he was from a very religious family, wasn't he? his sister was a missionary. >> right. >> and the family was rather devout, i suppose. i didn't detect kind of moral him being boat therled
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personally by the morality of some of these actions. i wouldn't ask you to assess his soul, but it seemed like it didn't -- there were no dark nights of soul or woe is me. is that present at all? what is your take on that? >> the family can speak to this, but his mother became a seventh day adventist. and she became very religious, which is one of the reasons all these people in medicine, they are health-oriented. most famous institution is battle creek san tarium with dr. kellogg. they have a real strain of that in their family that comes from the mother. warren was old enough that he had been raised a baptist. everyone else in the family did. one of the sisters, in 1905, went to burma as a medical
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missionary. so very interesting. what is interesting, when he gets to the war and you read these letters around the decision to go to war or not, and he is under enormous strain. his lover does not want to go to war. he knows if he votes for war that ohio is filled with german-americans who are mostly republicans and could be political suicide and decides to do so any way. he talks about how he silently goes over to pray before the senate is open. they always have the chaplain of the senate come out and pray and he tried to get guidance and he did pray. but he did not wear religion on his sleeve but he felt it. >> you don't detect any great sense of guilt in these letters. >> there's a sense of guilt. >> well diss guised. -- disguised. jim phillips was a good friend
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of his, carrie's husband. and he did have pangs of guilt. he wrote about it. jim at some point found out about it so did florence. but it's one of these stories that you know, you look at these people and you see both of them seemed to have had difficulties. harding's difficulties was that florence was so sick that they were not intimate. carrie was a sexual outlet and you will see that in spades. and that's fine. people should look at him as a real human being. i said before if our ancestors did not have sexual fantasies, none of us would be here today. \[laughter]
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>> to me, that's great. and richard, tell this story, he just met patrick kennedy last week and what did he say to you, richard? >> well -- kennedy and harding are the two senators to go straight from the senate to the presidency, the latest being barack obama. >> well, in so many words we were having dinner in a group setting for a meeting that we were at and i leaned over to him and said, patrick, we have a lot in common. and he said what is that? and he said, warren harding? and i said yeah. >> he said here's -- he's my hero. and i thought he was pulling my leg -- he said he's my hero. he said he has passion. most people don't have passion. he said and that's so important
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to me and he was bringing that up as being better than the passionless that he was comparing people to. >> there's a letter in this collection dated 1916 written by a lawyer and appears that both couples went to this lawyer to talk about the situation. you can read it and draw your own conclusions. but i think two couples did confront this situation and he was too far along in politics to get divorced and i don't think he wanted to get divorced. it was a truly complex and very nuanced relationship. >> the matter of passion, though, that was one of the -- way he charged some of his political critics. great cause. >> i was a just asked about that
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this morning and i did ra program with carl. >> i didn't see it. >> the fact is, he had his own opinions about what we should be doing. tell me one thing what we thought about when we went to war. it was very different than the second world war. everybody had blood on their hands, the germans, the french, the russians. and we were staying neutral. wilson tries to get a piece. it doesn't work. unrestricted submarine war fair -- warfare starts up. and wilson decides and doesn't decide that, that this is going to be a war about democracy. going to make the world safe for democracy. what it means is, we are going to tell the german government to have a democratic form of government. why?
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that was his conceit. and he said this when he asked to go to war after the czar dropped out and abdicated and there was a fledgeling democracy in russia which wilson supported. both of those democracies, the german russian democracies led into chaos and disaster. in germany, it gives rise to hitler and in russia, lenin. and warren harding gets up and says, i'm voting for war but only to protect us. it is not for us to tell another government, another sovereign people what form of government they should have. and he writes a letter to teddy roosevelt and teddy was with him on this. we should not force democracy on the world, especially places where they're not ready for it. does that something like something that is a modern theme? here's my point, we get so lost
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in the myth of warren harding, enjoy it as it is, but we lose this essential message that he gave us 100 years ago that we are seeing played out in iraq. the real issue do we have the right to force other people to take on democracy. he said no. he said we should defend ourselves vigorously. america first and we should be an example to the world but not change them by force. that played out in germany, in russia, played out in vietnam and played out in iraq. we are having a similar problem in afghanistan. this is a big theme that comes out of these letters and something for people to really focus on and extremely relevant today. >> you take the position had it not been for carrie phillips that he might have been elected president in 1916 and would not have had any ex trava began za?
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>> as was said before. my family was on the democratic side, my family helped woodrow wilson and f.d.r. we had in my basement pictures of f.d.r. and big win of woodrow wilson. as i got into this and i had all the myths of harding in my head, that harding become president in 1916 and he had a good chance to do so, the world would have been very different. i think. it's dangerous to do what ifs. but the fact of the matter is, he would have gone in and had he tried, win the nomination instead of hughes who was a lackluster candidate, later harding's secretary of state that did the washington naval
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conference. and still woodrow wilson almost did not beat him. and one of the big differences was ohio, ohio went for wilson by 90,000 votes and that was 24 electoral votes at that time. it would have been a landslide the other way for harding. also a newspaper man running -- running in 1920. had harding been president in 1916, that he would have had a different question about whether we would have gotten involved in the war and what the peace treaty would have looked like and what it would have looked like. good what-if question. >> you think carrie had to do with his decision not to run? >> i think she threatened him. she wanted him out of public
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life and he writes and went over to baltimore and made the thing that made it impossible going after what she called his mad pursuit of honors. i think she definitely threatened him. if you do this -- i don't know what. perhaps she would disclose the letters. he was thought of as a real potential candidate, because ohio had had president after president since after the civil war almost in a row, all republicans, so he was definitely a presidential timber at that point and four years later won by a landslide. i think the world changed because of this relationship. it was a world-changing relationship. >> the relationship between harding and phillips? >> yes, exactly. >> that's a rather striking point. >> the thing that you all find when you look at the letters, they are difficult to read, and
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hard time dating them. he writes easter, well, what easter. well, march 12, which march 12. and took me five years to date these things to be able to write my book. and it makes a big difference what year and takes a lot of work.
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